Have you ever googled 'single mums are bad for kids?' I have, and it makes for depressing reading, even the supposedly 'research-based' pieces and op-eds in well known publications. My (limited) social science background tells me that you need to separate out the various factors that might be affecting a child as they grow up, only one of which is whether they are being raised by a single mother. Does the research account for the difference between single-mums-by-choice as opposed to other single mums? What about separating out the effects during a breakup as opposed to the long-term impact? From what I've seen, that level of analysis is severely lacking. Then again, what do I know? I'm just a single mum.
The array of negative stereotypes about single mums* are pretty diverse: we can't control our children; they lack attention, and don't learn positive family values**. Hell, some claim our little ones are more likely to turn to drugs. The list of our failings can seem endless at times. From where I'm standing though, I'm glad my son is being brought up by single mum and here's just some of the reasons why.
My son gets my all and everything. Like every mum, my child means the world to me. As a single parent I get to spend an immense amount of time with him, much of it's just the two of us. While sometimes that can feel lonely for me, my son gets lots of mummy time; there is no-one else demanding my attention, no-one else wanting me to be home for dinner. It's just me, my son and I.
My son experiences feminist zeal everyday. Gender stereotypes are a real bug-bear of mine and because my son isn't seeing anyone share the burden of the housework with me I'm making a concerted effort to teach him about roles and responsibilities from a young age. He's great at sorting the washing. What's more, single parenting means I'm not 'accidentally' letting him observe some less than ideal divisions of labour and inter-personal relationships that are all too common across the globe. My son sees a strong, independent woman all day, everyday; a woman who rises again and again and makes shit happen. Most importantly, he learns how to love, respect and support such women.
My son *knows* he is loved. If there is one thing I've learnt from my divorce and single parenting journey, it's the importance of feeling safe and loved. I prioritise that over everything else with my son and I'm not sure I could say that if I hadn't experienced my recent past. Extreme negative experiences make you remember what life is all about - love and connections. If I ask him how much does mummy love him, his reply is "too much!"
My son has physical affection in abundance. A cuddle solves most things, for big ones and little ones alike; we are designed to feel love and affection in it's physical form. Because the cuddles I have with my son are the only cuddles I get. I make sure we have as many as possible. Big ones at that. This affection I give my son is not only giving him the knowledge of love, it's giving him the skills to spread that love, to me, his friends and future partners - I often catch him asking his friend or cousin if they want a cuddle.
My son has more space to develop his independence. I love my son being independent and he's got that in bucket loads. I spend more time with him than I would if I co-parented, but I don't spend more time with him than an average co-parenting regime (mother-father, mother-mother, father-father etc). This means my son has lots of time to play alone and he's learnt to entertain himself and does so *relatively* safely. It really does seem to be true that risk taking is good for children and as a single parent I'm pushed to take more of those risks everyday. Although there *may* have been a couple of bathroom flooding incidents.
My son has a mum with greater patience. Ironically, while my patience is tested to the limit nearly everyday, single parenting has expanded it more than I could ever have thought possible. Each time my patience is pushed to the edge it seems to stretch further and further as I swallow down the frustration and exhaustion. Sometimes I worry that I'm going to reach my limit and snap, but it seems mums just aren't designed that way. I fear that if I had more support I wouldn't have learnt this art of patience quite so well, purely because I wouldn't have needed to.
My son experiences less consumerism. I almost never buy my son new stuff - his clothes are inherited, his pressies come from the charity shop/ car boot/ freecycle. I'm not poverty stricken by any means but living on one salary is tough. I have chosen to prioritise what I love - travelling, over 'things'. To ensure this can happen I have to make savings elsewhere. At the moment my son still thinks that the carousels at fairgrounds are just something you watch for enjoyment, not something you pay money to ride on. The other day he asked me if nanny had bought the top he was wearing, when I said no he asked, "is it from the bin?". Now whilst I don't tend to rummage through the bins for clothes (that often) the comment did make me feel like he got the essence of how we live. The impact of all this thriftiness isn't clear yet, but I'm pretty sure he will grow up to be less consumerist than otherwise.
My son and I have an incredible bond. How could I not mention this, it's what everyone thinks of when they think of single mums, right? Well it's true. Our closeness has meant my son and I have an immense bond. I'm there when he wakes, I'm there when he falls asleep, and unless I'm working, I'm there pretty much every moment in between. If I want to go for a run I do it with him in tow on the scooter (much to his amusement). He's my coach, my playmate and most of all, my beautiful baby. I love that we have this bond and it's delightful to watch it grow as he develops.
*And I am referring to single mums here. Single dads with sole custody of children are few and far between and, perhaps due to that, there isn't such a well-established body of negative stereotypes attached to them. Please note, this is very different to me saying it isn't hard to be a single dad, I'm sure it's immensely challenging.
**I have no idea what good family values are and why a single mum cannot embody them, personally I think strong feminist values would benefit families around the globe.
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